Battlefield acupuncture to treat low back pain in the emergency department

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Battlefield acupuncture (BFA) is an ear acupuncture protocol used by the military for immediate pain relief. This is a pilot feasibility study of BFA as a treatment for acute low back pain (LBP) in the emergency department (ED).


Thirty acute LBP patients that presented to ED were randomized to standard care plus BFA or standard care alone. In the BFA group, outcomes were assessed at the time of randomization, 5 min after intervention, and again within 1 h after intervention. In the standard care group outcomes were assessed at the time of randomization and again an hour later. Primary outcomes included post-intervention LBP on a 10-point numeric pain rating scale (NRS) and the timed get-up-and-go test (GUGT). t-Test and chi squared tests were used to compare differences between groups demographics to evaluate randomization, and Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) was used to assess differences in primary/secondary outcomes.


We randomized 15 patients to BFA plus standard care, and 15 patients to standard care alone. Demographics were similar between groups. Post-intervention LBP NRS was significantly lower in the BFA group compared with the standard care group (5.2 vs. 6.9, ANCOVA p = 0.04). GUGT was similar between groups (21.3 s vs. 19.0 s, ANCOVA p = 0.327). No adverse events from acupuncture were reported.


This pilot study demonstrates that BFA is feasible as a therapy for LBP in the ED. Furthermore, our data suggest that BFA may be efficacious to improve LBP symptoms, and thus further efficacy studies are warranted. ( registration number NCT02399969).

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